How did people learn the faith?


I’m wondering how people learned the faith historically.

were all masses in latin before the council of trent?

and when it was in latin, how did people learn the readings at mass? a lot of people didn’t speak latin and couldn’t read. I kow people say that a lot of romantic languages are similar but I know French and am learning Spanish but I’m still totally lost when it comes ot latin.

and a lot of people didn’t have the chance to go to school.

so how would your average peasant, for example, know what was going on when they couldn’t understand the mass? were the bible readings translated during the himily back then, for example?

I mean isn’t the bible supposed to be read to the faithful? what’s the point of having it in a language that only educated scholars used?

or are there other ways that I’m not familiar with.

also, I know a lot of religious communities did a lot of work for the church. what was available for the laity to do? I understand the structure was quite different. for example, a lot of our current ministries used to be a prt of minor orders, and most corporal works were done by religious men and women. could I get some example of lay ministries?


Art was a very good way for the people to learn. As far as I know the homily would be in the vernacular. All of the stain glass windows of pictures depicting Biblical stories would be behind the altar so the people could look at the pictures to learn who was who and what they did. Charlemagne was known for promoting iconography during that time.


Ok let me try some answers. Though you have a lot of questions that are kind of all over the place.

  1. People learned the faith historically through parents, parishes and schools, just like today. Perhaps even more so because for a large part of that time Catholics were the only Christians and there were Christian societies and governments.

  2. The first Masses were in the language of the time. Probably Aramaic.

  3. Many knew the readings beforehand, the readings were actually fewer. A bigger percentage than now knew Latin, and believe it or not, for hundreds of years people still understood and “prayed” the Mass. Even the Ordinary form can and is argued to be recommended to be said in Latin. English would be the most confusing language to translate into I think. Just look at the recent changes to bring the English back into line with the original Latin.

  4. You see the world through American eyes. Many Catholics in the world do not go to school. Africa, S. America etc… These are poor poor uneducated places. Yet, it is in those places that the faith thrives.

  5. I don’t know about your average peasant, but I think the average teens with bubblegum and Iphones are probably getting less out of a Mass in their vernacular than those who held to a sacredness of a Latin language of the Church. (Which still is the language of the Church by the way) I would argue that our 30 second sound bite attentions spans have rendered us less fluent in the Mass than those historically.

  6. I am not 100 percent sure about this but I believe the readings could be done in the vernacular. Several Exraordinary Form Masses I have attended have had English readings and homilies. Someone may certainly correct me on any or all of the above answers.

  7. Let me answer your question with a question (zoolander) How often do you read the Bible readings ahead of Mass and reflect on them, you should you know.

Finally, in this day and age where a Bible is so readily available and a public is so literate it shocks me how few have actually read the Bible. More have read the Harry Potter series which is actually longer that the Bible. But one only has to do with eternal salvation, I guess it can wait…:shrug:


I do read the bible, if you really need to know

and I hear the readings at mass.

but I was just thinking, I don’t know how I would have learned the faith otherwise if I couldn’t read or understand the mass. my parents didn’t teach me anything


Well, praise God you have been given the grace to hear the Gospel message. Because honestly, it is drown out more now than in less literate times.

The Gospel has always been shared and spoken and taught. The great saints of the Church confirm this.


Much credit goes out to the monks for preserving the faith.


AFAIK, the sermon has always been given in the language of the people. This is the “teaching” part of the Mass. The Mass itself is not a Bible study but a sacrifice offered by a priest.


Our program for children is the Rosary.

Each Sunday for Religious Education we talk about one of the Mysteries of the Rosary. In the fall we concentrate of the Luminous Mysteries. Then we pray a decade. We don’t pray all the prayers that come with the Rosary each week so we alternate between the Hail Mary and Apostle’s Creed. The children love it. I have no idea who came up with the bright idea that children do not want to learn the Rosary. The Rosary opens the door for telling Bible Stories, Prayers, Love for Jesus, Love for Our Blessed Mother.


Catechesis in medieval Europe was probably accomplished through a host of ways. I’ve actually never studied it but my guesses are that

  1. Go into any Catholic parish (or definitely cathedral) and you’ll see what we’re known for, even for what centuries-long wars have been fought over: images and statues. In the East and West, Catholic and Orthodox religion was conveyed to most people through most of history to this point through images and symbols. The peasants can’t read, but they can look at windows or ikons with depictions of holy people and events from the lives of Our Lord and the Holy Virgin and learn quite a lot.

  2. Vocations, particularly monastic, were so much more prolific in that time period. If a family was too poor to keep their son, they would send him to a monastery for the monks to raise and make one of their own. They got at least somewhat of an education and the higher ratio of religious to lay people with whom they regularly interacted no doubt gave the laity access to those knowledgeable enough to instruct them.

  3. Religion was in almost all kingdoms of medieval Europe a state function. What it means is that the life of the society in which you lived, the calendar and holidays, were set by the Catholic liturgical calendar. This was all cultural. It’s Easter? Nobody’s in the field. No markets are going to be open. Everyone goes to Mass or has a festival in the countryside. It’s a feast of your kingdom/village/region’s patron saint? Nobody works, they get drunk and have silly traditions built up around symbols and they spend all day sharing stories of the saints or “cathechizing” the kids. Which is related to the next point…

  4. In that time the only way to get information was to talk. Everyone is asking everyone else “Who was saint so-and-so anyway?” Also, the family church also existed at that time too so kids could learn from their parents at least the basics: Jesus died for us, etc.

At this period in time common understanding of religion was not like it is today. Yes, they mostly understood the basics such as the Cross as salvation and who Mary was, but they were not engaging in discussions with strangers hundreds of miles away via digital information of whether or not eating one more M&M constituted scrupulosity.

It was a simpler time. This is also the time period when the depiction of hell as a fiery place where you burn forever in literal fire came about. The clergy and religious had to depict the consequence of sin in a way the people could relate to and something sufficiently scary to get them to stop sinning…anyway, I’m just listing whatever comes to mind. I’m sure others have a more informed take :D:rolleyes:


Is it the language of the whole Church? Or just many Western Rites, including the largest: Roman Rite? I thought the official languages of the Byzantine churches were Greek, Arabic, Amharic, etc.?


:wink: oh there always has to be one…

I think for the purposes of the OP that we need not get into the technicalities. Don’t you?


You do injustice to the Church’s teaching, to the Fathers and Doctors of the Church and to the great Medieval theologians. They were not Neanderthals. If anything, they had a better grasp of spiritual realities than we do today in this Rationalist benighted world. Concerning hell fire, the great 20th c. theologian Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. writes, “we are to admit metaphorical language only when comparison with other passages excludes the literal sense, or when literal sense involves an impossibility. Neither of these two conditions is here realized” (Everlasting Life, III, 17).


Most, if not all, official Church documents are in Latin. Latin was the administrative language of the Roman Empire. Greeks and others wrote in Latin as well. It made sense to preserve the moral code, philosophy, scripture, and liturgy in Latin, the language which has remained virtually unchanged. The Roman RIte and many of the other prayers that are in use today were written in Latin, although there are several hundred translations. It is true, however, the first century liturgies were in languages other than Latin.


I think many church documents have been translated into Latin since that is the language of the Roman Rite which happens to be the largest Rite in use currently, so as a coincidence most documents happen to be in Latin, but not all. I would like to see a copy of the canons, liturgies, or divine office of the Byzantine churches in Latin. Canon, Pope, Catholic, Christian, and liturgy are Greek words, anyway.

There is a difference between liturgical language and administrative language. The liturgical language of the Roman Rite (and many Western Rites) is Latin. The liturgical languages of the Byzantine/Eastern Rites are various (Greek, Russian, Arabic, Armenian, Ge’ez ?]).

If by ‘official’ language you mean the liturgical language of the Catholic Church is Latin, then I must say that is inaccurate. As we all know, the Catholic Church is made up of many churches. The administrative language of the Holy See is Latin, but that doesn’t mean it’s the “official language of the Church.” . . .Anyway, this isn’t even on topic!


Agreed. I just can’t resist being a Byzantine apologist sometimes.

:onpatrol: anti-Uniate-ism patrol over here


Right, but one should read Veterum Sapientia and Voluntati Obsequens before dismissing Latin altogether.

. . .Anyway, this isn’t even on topic!

Latin seems to always be the topic of this kind. :slight_smile:


To the OP- I like this question because the answer is gray. The learning of faith was an experience- not a book, not a language, not Mass or anything of the like.

In the early church, if you wanted to know what it meant to be Christian and do Christian things, you had to associate yourself with Christians who did Christians things- which ultimately could cost you your life. How do we baptize? How do we bury the dead? How do celebrate? How do we take care of the fringe cluster? How do we feed the hungry? Back then one had the experience and then later was given some theological meaning to their actions,

We’ve reversed the process today. We sanitize the experience. If we just read a particular book or set up a particular program or subscribe to a popular catholic evangelist, we somehow believe we are becoming more catholic when in reality we are appealing to small single minded community that intentionally separates themselves from the larger community. A mindset like that makes them skeptical and hyper critical of our worshiping communities which usurps the very essence of the communal aspect of Christianity. For example, I think more nominal Catholics would be involved in Church if they knew how a community deliberately and intentional cared for the poor, not necessarily how licit the worship was. And our communities should be made up of broken sinners, not a seminary outlet store.

In other words, today we have made it en vogue to ascend to theological certitudes at the expense of a community. In other words, I can be “catholic” despite the Church.

I could go on…


The readings/gospel were probably allowed to be in the vernacular and stained glass windows showing the scenes of bible stories abounded.

closed #19

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